Smith J (2019) Curriculum coherence and teachers' decision-making in Scottish high school history syllabi. Curriculum Journal, 30 (4), pp. 441-463. https://doi.org/10.1080/09585176.2019.1647861
Debates over which historical content should be compulsory for study in the school curriculum are a common feature of education systems across the globe. These debates invariably weigh the perceived benefits to social cohesion of a ‘common core’ of knowledge against the perceived risks to democracy of government-sanctioned ‘official knowledge’. Scotland has, perhaps, taken an extreme position on this debate by specifying no mandatory historical content in its social studies curriculum. This paper uses 21 interviews with Scottish history teachers to explore how schools use this curricular autonomy: which historical periods they choose to teach and why.
The paper suggests that, without access to theoretical debates about the nature of historical knowledge, schools fall back on instrumental justifications for content selection within the curriculum. The result in many cases is an extremely narrow and fragmented syllabus in which pupil preference, teacher interests and the logistics of timetabling guide content selection.
The paper concludes that the formulation of coherent school-level history curricula is dependent on the fostering agency among a theoretically-informed teaching profession.
History education; historical knowledge; curriculum studies; teacher agency
Curriculum Journal: Volume 30, Issue 4